Sept. 12, 2007
By Brittney Earle
Brandon Pilgrim is no stranger to tragedies or loss during his football career. He has overcome many obstacles on and off the football field to become the player he is today. He not only has physical strength, but a mental strength to get through hard times and challenges that he has seen in his five years at Clemson.
During the spring game prior to his junior year, Pilgrim was warming up on the field, excited about football and ready to showcase his football talents to his family and Tiger fans. He was bright-eyed and eager to start the game until he was told that five members of his family had been in a serious car wreck on their way to the game.
Driving the car was Pilgrim’s father Reggie when a car came across the centerline on South Carolina Highway 11 and hit their car on the passenger’s side. The car spun into a tree. His mother Cynthia suffered numerous internal injuries. Pilgrim’s grandparents Dale and Betty Steele along with his sister Brittany were also involved in the accident.
When he found out what had occurred, he took off his helmet and gear and headed off the field. He was picked up by his brother Brent outside the stadium to go to Oconee Memorial Hospital in nearby Seneca to be with his family.
“I can say that was hard for me to deal with, especially because my mom was in intensive care for about three-and-a-half weeks after the accident,” recalled Pilgrim. “I saw how much she had to overcome to get through such a devastating occurrence, and that gave me more strength in my own life.”
His mother recovered about three months after the accident, giving Pilgrim vitality to get through tough times like his mother did. He saw the fight in his mom to get back to normal, and he knew he wanted to have that same fight in his eyes to tackle the things that might try and hold him back in life.
Pilgrim unfortunately had another life-altering occurrence shortly after the accident.
“About a month-and-a-half after the accident, my grandfather passed away, which was also something I had to overcome and get through,” said Pilgrim.
Pilgrim was faced with many hardships before the start of his junior year, and they enabled him to work harder on the football field with a newfound mental strength that would prove to be beneficial in his game-play.
“I love football, and I knew I could use this new strength during the upcoming season,” remarked Pilgrim. “I also knew I could use this strength in any aspect of life. Having the ability to overcome things gives me a certain toughness that I can use in life.”
This love for the sport of football started at the early age of five in Georgia. Pilgrim was a well-rounded and well-conditioned athlete, playing not only football, but also playing basketball and baseball in his younger years.
“Playing sports was a big part of my life growing up, having my grandfather in the minor leagues,” said Pilgrim. “He was a very influential person in my life, always pushing me the hardest in the family. He always believed in me and knew I was capable of nothing but the best in life.”
Pilgrim’s family supported his athletic goals, enabling him to develop into an outstanding athlete.
He became a natural at football during his high school years. He played for the Parkview High Panthers under Head Coach Cecil Flowe in Lilburn, GA. Parkview High was a very revered football program, not only in Georgia, but nationally. The Panthers have many state titles in their trophy case, along with a handful of Division I caliber athletes, including current Clemson sophomore tight end Michael Palmer.
Pilgrim was a three-year letterman and two-year starter at Parkview High. His diligence and determination for the game allowed him to lead his team to three state titles and a 45-0 record. During his senior season, he was named first-team all-county and second-team all-state in 2002. He was also the 2002 Gwinnett County Touchdown Club Offensive Lineman-of-the-Year.
Pilgrim was rated the #29 prospect in the state of Georgia and #47 offensive tackle in the nation according to Rivals.com. He was also the #32 prospect in the state of Georgia by BorderWars.com. He became a highly-recruited player for many teams in the Southeast, with offers from Clemson, Arkansas, Auburn, Georgia Tech, South Carolina, and Virginia.
During his senior year, Pilgrim was plagued with the hard decision all athletes face in choosing a school to attend. He knew he wanted to make a decision that would give him a rewarding experience. After several visits, he chose Clemson.
“Coach (Ron) West recruited me to play for Clemson,” said #74. “He was a great coach and person, and I knew he was going to be the line coach for me.
“On my official visit to Clemson, I loved the small-town atmosphere and I knew I would fit in well here. Also, my high school colors were orange and blue, which made it easy to transition to orange and purple.”
Once in Tigertown, Pilgrim did not red-shirt as a freshman with fellow first-year offensive lineman Marion Dukes at the time. Pilgrim and Dukes were the only two linemen who did not red-shirt their freshman season. Most linemen red-shirt their first year in order to get stronger.
“It was a little intimidating to walk on the field for the first time with veteran players,” remembered Pilgrim. “I knew it was not going to be easy, but I was up for the challenge to learn from these guys and grow as a player so that I could get playing time my freshman year.”
His hard work and dedication allowed Pilgrim to play 145 snaps in 11 games as a first-year freshman in 2003, as he played behind left offensive guard Cedric Johnson. He saw his first significant action at Georgia Tech when he played 14 snaps, as Clemson trounced the Yellow Jackets by a score of 39-3 in Atlanta. He later played 45 snaps against Duke with an 80-percent grade along with four knockdown blocks.
Pilgrim then took a year off and red-shirted his sophomore year. He returned for his 2005 season, starting three of the first four games. He had 39 knockdown blocks in 341 snaps in 11 games, only missing one game (Maryland) due to an injury. He had four knockdowns in 25 snaps as a starter in the season-opening victory over #17 Texas A&M, but he suffered an injury that kept him out at Maryland the following week. He returned for the game against #13 Miami (FL) at right guard, totaling a career-high 6.5 knockdowns and an 81-percent grade in 76 snaps.
Pilgrim also led the Tigers in coaches film grade in the game against #25 Boston College, the only time in his career he has led the offensive line in film grade. He started that contest, amassing 6.5 knockdowns in 44 snaps with an 85-percent grade.
Pilgrim also came off the bench at #19 South Carolina and had a career-high three intimidation blocks, including six knockdowns, and a career-high 91 percent grade in 34 snaps. He had notable grades of 82 percent against both #16 Florida State and Colorado as well.
During his junior season, Pilgrim was listed as second-team offensive guard and played 204 snaps, which were the second-most snaps among non-starters on the offensive line. He had a total of 15 knockdown blocks on the season.
Pilgrim split time with Chris McDuffie in the South Carolina game, playing 24 snaps with a solid 78-percent grade. He also had a season-high four knockdown blocks against Temple with a 90-percent grade. Towards the end of season, he averaged 18.3 snaps per game, which was a big increase over the 12 snaps per game in the first six contests.
After a not-so-great finish from the Tigers in 2006, Pilgrim is ready open and close the 2007 season with a bang.
“I believe that we have more drive because of the way we ended last year,” said Pilgrim. “We have more to prove. I would like our team to start off well and keep that momentum throughout season. I know we have the talent to prove that we are a threat in the ACC.”
Pilgrim will push hard to help lead his team to a successful season, with hopes of an ACC Championship appearance.
“It would be nice to win the ACC or at least have a shot at the ACC Championship game,” he exclaimed.
Although the offensive line lost four starters from last year, this year’s group of linemen want to prove that they too have what it takes to allow Clemson to become a fierce running threat with two of the most talented backs in the nation.
Offensive Line Coach Brad Scott is proud of Pilgrim’s growth over the years. “Brandon has been a very dependable role player on the team for the past three years,” he said. “He is a very diverse athlete, playing both guard spots, and he saw some time at tackle in the Champs Sports Bowl against Colorado (in 2005). He is also a very athletic player who excels as a pass protector.
“He is quiet by nature, but he brings a strong work ethic to the practice field. He also takes a lot of pride in knowing his assignments and makes very few mental mistakes, which will prove to be very valuable this season.”
During his years at Clemson, Pilgrim has excelled both on and off the field. Entering his senior year, he has a lot on the line, and he is ready to have a standout senior season to remember.
After his time at Clemson, Pilgrim hopes to pursue his dreams of playing professional football, depending on how the 2007 season progresses. If that does not work out, he hopes to coach at the high school level.
Pilgrim has shown that dealing with hard times and facing obstacles head first will only make you stronger and more able to cope with the many barriers that plague people in everyday life. He plans on using this mental strength to tackle his football hardships that may arise throughout the season to become a productive and determined Tiger.
Brittney Earle, a sophomore from Easley, SC, is a student assistant in the Clemson Sports Information Office.
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